A Study by Jim Langford


HEBREWS 13:17 (Part One)

In his message on Numbers 16 Gordon Grant said that he had received criticism in Tulare for the reading of Hebrews 13:7 & 17. I replied in my study that the criticism came not from the mere "reading of" those verses, but most likely because of the context in which he used them. I went on to make this comment on Hebrews 13:17:

"As less gifted individuals (or individuals misappropriating a gift) assume places of leadership in our assemblies, the tendency towards ‘Lording it over’ increases. This has become especially noticeable in the last five to ten years. The ‘obey’ as used in Hebrews 13 obviously means an obedience that follows being persuaded. The mind must be carried to the point it believes. Then the will acts by obeying. Likewise, ‘submit’ doesn’t denote a servile subjection, but the reverent respect which issues from love. Both have for their end the honoring of those to whom honor is due. This is made clear by comparing Matt. 20:25; Luke 22:24-27; 1 Pet. 5:3. The exhortations in these verses are qualified by many others in God’s word, so that it is not a blind obedience which is here requested."

RAG gave this comment his immediate attention, claiming in his response to me that I "don’t seem to understand the place of leadership in the church today." I received the following lecture:

"You stated ‘the ‘obey’ as used in Heb. 13 obviously means an obedience that follows being persuaded.’ Using this logic I suppose the command to ‘be subject’ unto the powers (rulers) that be Rom. 13:1-5, and ‘children obey’ your parents in the Lord Eph. 6:1 would only be applicable where the one obeying had first been ‘persuaded’. Your conclusion is not ‘obvious’ as you stated, it is erroneous. Commands to obey and to submit wouldn’t be necessary where the individual involved was first ‘persuaded’. This would be salesmanship not leadership. That which causes us to obey, (Heb. 7:7 & :13) [sic!] is the work of the scripture in the lives of their families and their position in the church as outlined by scripture."

Robert went on to deal with my use of Matthew 20:25 and Luke 22:24-27. For some reason he avoided referring to 1 Peter 5:3. We shall return to these passages later. For now, we will content ourselves with my written answer to his concept of "leadership in the church today":

"Your role models [for church leadership] appear to be found in Romans 13:1-5 and Ephesians 6:1-6. In these instances the concept of ‘persuasion’ is admittedly subordinate to blind obedience or unquestioning submission to authority. Most people call this authoritarianism. What you ‘don’t seem to understand,’ Robert, is that only parents (of children at home), civil authorities and masters have that place in the lives of Christians. I exclude our Lord Jesus Christ in that statement because He is ultimately the only one in whom we can have complete confidence and trust, and the only one who demands our unqualified obedience.

"The ‘logic’ you labeled ‘erroneous’ was simply the definition of the word ‘obey’ (PEITHO) as taken from Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Vine’s Expository Dictionary and Strong’s Greek Dictionary. Perhaps you didn’t take the time to avail yourself of these helpful sources. The usage of the word PEITHO in the Scriptures should be sufficient to determine its meaning. Of the 56 times the word appears, it is translated ‘persuaded’ about 22 times and ‘obey’ only 7 times. On other occasions it is rendered ‘believed’, ‘trust’, ‘convinced’, ‘confidence’ or ‘follow’. In Ephesians 6:1,5 and Colossians 3:20,22 a different word (HUPAKOUO)is rendered 'obey', and it means just that! 'Obedience to authority'.

"I suppose it was ‘salesmanship’ that ‘persuaded’ some Jews in Acts 17:4 and 18:4 to believe after Paul reasoned, explained, proved, proclaimed and ‘persuaded’ them ‘from the Scriptures’ that ‘Jesus is the Christ.’ He certainly didn’t win them by commanding their unquestioning submission, did he? What amazes me, however, is your unique ability to subtly agree with someone while trying desperately to disagree. Robert, when a man truthfully expounds God’s word, when his manner of life and that of his family reflects God’s headship, and his place in the body of Christ is one of commitment to serving others, I assure you I will be effectively ‘persuaded’ to follow him. I certainly won’t obey him simply because he orders me to. Nor would you! Now, honestly, your last statement expresses essentially the very thing I have been contending for: ‘That which causes us to obey…is the work of the Scripture in their lives, the lives of their families and their position in the church as outlined by Scripture.’"

HEBREWS 13:17 (Part Two)

RAG’S finesse at twisting God’s word becomes increasingly evident as we examine his comments on the two passages that I suggested add clarity to Hebrews 13:17:

"To use Mat 20:15 and Lu. 22:24-27 to try to prove that submit and obey as used in Heb 13:7 & 17 ‘obviously…follows being persuaded," is a misapplication of scripture…The context of these two passages is not a question about God ordained leadership at all. Mat 20:20 & 21 is a case where a woman and her sons have requested that the sons sit on the Lord’s right and left hand in His KINGDOM. In Luke 22:24 we are told there was strife over the question ‘who should be accounted the GREATEST.’

"This is a far cry from the question of submission or obedience to God ordained leadership in this age. In both passages, mention is made concerning Gentiles who exercise DOMINION and AUTHORITY or LORDSHIP (overlording). The Lord then tells them that with the disciples this is not so and exhorts those who would be ‘great’ to be a ‘minister’ (servant) and whosoever will be ‘chief’ let him be your ‘servant’. In addition he states that he is among them as one that ‘serveth’.

"The context has nothing to do with leadership in the church. It is an exhortation that all of us can apply to ourselves as to the attitude we should have of serving one another, not wanting to promote ourselves. None of us should tolerate overlording, nor have we tolerated lording it over our brethren. Historically we have resisted this in several areas over the years."

Having read the above, most of you could find much to take issue with! I did in my original letter to Robert, but for now I’ll restrict my remarks to the subject at hand as I conclude with my final quote:

"Your explanation, Robert, of Matthew 20:25-28 and Luke 22:24-27 leaves much to be desired, including your assertion that the ‘context of these two passages is not a question about God ordained leadership at all.’ There has been, is and always will be ‘God ordained leadership’ in each economy or dispensation we read about in the Scriptures. Such is true in the Kingdom of God, which is entered by the new birth, and such will be true in the future kingdom reign of Israel’s Messiah on earth. When Christ told the Apostles that He would confer on them a kingdom, and that they would ‘sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’ (Luke 22:29-30), was He not referring to ‘God ordained leadership?’ And why did Christ refer to Gentile ‘ruler’ and ‘authority’ if the subject matter did not pertain to ‘leadership?’

"Having established that fact, the next question is: how did the Apostle’s understand Christ’s reference to the manner of Gentile rule and its application to them? ‘NOT SO WITH YOU!’ He said. For an answer we need only turn to 1 Peter 5:1-5 where Peter appealed to the ‘elders’, saying, ‘BE shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers…NOT LORDING IT OVER those entrusted to you, but BEING examples to the flock.’ Now, Robert, is that really ‘a far cry from the question of submission or obedience to God ordained leadership in this age’ as you so bluntly asserted?

"Again, your summary remarks indicate agreement with my thesis. You end up making the same application of those passages that I did (although obviously trying to steer the application away from leadership!), but I’m increasingly alarmed at your lack of candor. Your reaction to my ‘observation’ is revealing. It is exactly what one would expect from legalistic, authoritarian-minded people. A sizeable number of saints among us have sensed the shift taking place in recent years from a Spirit-led assembly to one dominated by men!"